Garden party: Deng, Bulls hold on to beat Knicks

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Garden party: Deng, Bulls hold on to beat Knicks

NEW YORKLast time around when the Bulls took on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, it was an eventual occasion, filled with technical fouls, a mild skirmish and a furious rally by the home team to put a scare into their guests.

Just like their December visit to the Big Apple, the Bulls (20-14) took care of business throughout the contest Friday evening, using smothering defense, an up-tempo approach on offense and a season-high scoring effort from Luol Deng (33 points) to dominate their opponent, then letting up late, to allow the Knicks (23-13) to climb out of a 25-point hole before holding on to win, 108-101.

The visitors jumped out to a quick start against their historical rivals, who went with a bigger lineupformer Bulls big man Kurt Thomas (six points) started at power forwardto counter the Bulls size advantage, which was an issue in the two teams earlier meetings this season.

It was a defensive-minded contest in the early going, playing to the guests strengths, and as has been a recent trend, the entire starting lineupincluding Kirk Hinrich (six points, seven assists), who was a game-time decision, but played through a lacerated right elbow and popped bursa sacgot involved early on.

The low-post tandem of Carlos Boozer (17 points) and enthusiastic native New Yorker Joakim Noah (nine points, eight rebounds) were productive, as was an active Rip Hamilton (14 points), while Deng blanketed Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony (39 points) on defense, all leading to the Bulls, pushing the tempo offensively, quickly extending a slim cushion into a double-digit edge.

New York made a push at the end of the frame, going on a 6-0 run to briefly make it a single-digit affair, buoyed by Anthony and center Tyson Chandler (18 rebounds), but behind Dengs efficient scoring, the Bulls ended the opening period with a 29-18 lead.

Solid play from the Bulls second unit allowed the visitors comfortable winning margin to slightly balloon, despite the hustle plays made by Thomas, the leagues elder statesman.

Taj Gibson (12 points), another Big Apple native, and Nate Robinson (five points), who started his career with the Knicksthey were joined on the court by backup center Nazr Mohammed, who also had a stint in New Yorkwere catalysts for the Bulls, but it has to be noted that the poor play of the hosts in general and Anthony, in particular, was a big part of the Bulls success.

Upon Deng coming back into the contest, it was immediately evident that he maintained his hot handhe knocked down seven of his first eight shots, including his first three three-point attemptsas he continued to torch the hosts and at least initially, decisively seize the upper hand in the battle of All-Star small forwards with Anthony, on both ends of the floor, as the lead continued to grow.

From transition offense to stifling defense, long-range shooting, dominant rebounding and everything in between, the Bulls controlled the game, improving as the first half went along and headed into the intermission with a 57-36 advantage.

After the break, the contest continued to be a laugher, as the Knicks ineptitude on offense persisted, while the Bulls, still pushing the pace, took advantage of the lopsided situation, with the body language of the home team showing their frustration.

Anthony and Knicks sixth-man extraordinaire J.R. Smith (13 points) struggled through miserable shooting nights and without another consistent scoring optionpoint guard Raymond Felton was sidelined due to injury and power forward Amare Stoudemire (five points), still in a reserve role, wasnt at 100 percent after missing the early portion of the campaignbut they kept chucking up shots.

As the Bulls are prone to due, they allowed the hosts to slice into the huge deficit they faced, by way of Anthony, arguably the leagues best pure scorer, catching fire and making the game, if not close, more competitive, to the pleasure of the Garden audience, who had previously booed their beloved squads efforts on the evening.

But despite the superstars brief virtuoso performance, the Knicks couldnt sustain the effort and the headway they made disappeared, with the Bulls buckling down on defense and putting a halt to the hosts momentum to head into the final stanza, ahead, 82-60.

A thunderous Boozer dunk set the tone at the outset of the fourth quarter and although the Knicks continued to threaten to make the deficit more manageable with their dangerous outside marksmanship, the efforts of the much-maligned Bulls power forward, currently having one of his better stretches since arriving in Chicago, as well as Marco Belinelli (12 points), ensured the visitors maintained their sizable edge.

The forward duo of Deng and Boozer shouldered the offensive burden for the BullsNoah picked up his fifth foul with 7:16 remaining, but the visitors didnt miss a beat, at least at firstand heading into the games stretch run, they were still flirting with a 20-point winning margin.

Gibson also chipped in late, but while Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, a perfectionist until the endand perhaps aware of his teams penchant for giving away leadskept many of his regulars in the contest and for good reason, as New York refused to give up the fight, and whittled away at the Bulls lead, gradually creeping closer until an Anthony triple made it a seven-point game, 103-96, with 1:07 remaining.

Noah eventually fouled out, much to the delight of the fans in his hometown, but though it was just shy of a heart-racing finish, the Bulls managed to knock down clutch free throws to seal the deal and once again, silence the raucous crowd, at least the fans who stuck around for the exciting conclusion.

Making adjustments nothing new for new Bulls star Dwyane Wade

Making adjustments nothing new for new Bulls star Dwyane Wade

Dwyane Wade has always had eclectic tastes in threads, but considering the career adjustments he’s had to make, the 34-year old might decide to be a tailor when he hangs up his Way of Wade kicks.

Going from point guard to shooting guard after his rookie year? No problem.

Assuaging the sensitive ego of Shaquille O’Neal after O’Neal’s rocky breakup with Kobe Bryant? Child’s play.

Allowing LeBron James to take over his team and his city after two seasons where he averaged 28 points, seven assists, five rebounds and two steals? Sure, since it meant more rings.

Adjusting to his knees robbing him of his transcendent explosiveness? Excuse him while he walks to meet the media with both knees wrapped in ice — while wearing a smile.

Being introduced first, second or last? Doesn’t matter, as long as Tommy Edwards says “from Chicago” as a nod to Wade’s hometown roots.

So in making the biggest geographical change to date, moving back to Chicago after 13 years in Miami, Wade is prepared to shift again — even if it means being a 3-point shooter, even if it means playing different roles to suit the changing needs of this roster.

“My game translates anywhere,” Wade said after Wednesday’s morning practice, “I’ve played with so many different players before. I’m not worried about that. It’s me trying to understand offense, understand what we’re trying to do. Get to know my teammates. But I know where my sweet spot is, when to get aggressive, etc. One thing I’m trying to get used to is that 3-point shot is going to be open a little bit more for me, and coach is telling me to shoot it. That’s a little new era for me.”

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Bulls fans probably remember Wade hitting his share of devastating 3-pointers against them over the years, even though his 386 career makes only account for .05 percent of his made field goals.

There was the four-point play in Game 5 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals at the United Center when Wade’s Heat stormed back late to clinch a trip to The Finals. Very few can forget the heartbreaking, buzzer-beating running triple after a blindside steal from John Salmons in the 2008-09 season, so it’s not that he lacks the ability.

The Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors found that out last spring when he hit 12 in 14 playoff games for the Heat.

“In the playoffs they take things away, right,” Wade said. “In the regular season, you play so many games teams sometimes don’t get a long time to prepare for you, so they may try and take one thing away.”

The logic was followed by a little hubris, earned considering he’s risen to such heights without having to rely on it.

“For me a lot of people have talked about me not shooting threes, but no one has been able to take away what I wanted to do. So why would I do something else?” Wade queried. “But then when you take it away I have the ability to knock it down. I’m not Doug McDermott. I’m not Niko (Mirotic). But I’m comfortable with the shot, and I’m going to shoot it. I know it’s going to be there, so I have a better chance of knocking it down. Coach has been on me about it.”

Wade will have to take the shot to keep defenses from sagging too far down on Jimmy Butler drives, and the hope is Butler goes back to shooting 38 percent from the long line as he did in 2014-15 as opposed to the 31 percent he shot last season.

For things to work in a potentially awkward situation, Wade has to be willing to step a little outside himself and seems prepared to.

“Normally I had to be the guy that would put it on the floor, but more so than that just pick my spots,” Wade said. “Understand when to be aggressive, but I’m a play-maker as well. I’m always looking to make plays for my guys.’’

Wade understands Fred Hoiberg’s offense is more equal opportunity than isolation-based but knows the instances will come when he must be the primary scorer — particularly late when he’s one of the league’s premier fourth-quarter scorers.

“Last year I averaged 19, the other 21.5. I can score, that's fine with me,” Wade said. “I'm willing to do whatever it takes. Scoring is one of those things that comes natural. It just depends on how high field-goal percentage I shoot. I'm not concerned about that. If coach wants me to score, then thank you.”

New tone set in Bulls training camp marked by role adjustments

New tone set in Bulls training camp marked by role adjustments

With eight new players and likely three new starters for the Bulls, an adjustment period of roles has started to take place in the opening days of camp.

Shot creators turn into shot makers.

Full-time ball handlers revert back to being part-time dominators.

First-time leaders are supplemented by experienced leaders who bring an instant credibility and speak with a bluntness that wasn’t as present last year—even from the coach.

A new tone of sorts was set when Dwyane Wade didn’t give the stock “nobody cares what happened last year” spiel after being asked if he wondered about what went wrong on the floor and off with the Bulls.

“You ask the guys that were here last year, how rotten it was,” Wade said. “You want to hear from their perspective, whatever it was last year from the standpoint of losing. You don't do that. I come from a different place and a different culture. Things are done differently different places. So I sat down and listened to guys.

“But the thing is, some of the things they talked about I know are not going to take place. Not while I'm here, not while (Rajon) Rondo's here, not while Jimmy (Butler) continues to grow as a leader.”

It adds light to some of the thoughts that Butler expressed after Tuesday’s first practice, and what anyone with a set of eyes could see last season when the Bulls looked like a fractured group that didn’t enjoy playing with each other anymore.

There wasn’t outright disdain, but some of the damaged relationships were never repaired as the season went on. Putting that into an alphabet soup with losing, bad habits and injuries and it spelled out “something’s gotta give.”

“You definitely gotta like each other. If you don’t, and you can say this doesn’t happen, but I feel like if you don’t like a guy you’re not going to pass him the ball,” said Butler, who had some rocky moments last season as a leader. “I think there’s a lot of liking on this team. Like I said, everybody wants everybody to be successful. Do we like each other too much? I hope so.”

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Refreshing honesty is a change at the Advocate Center, with Wade and Rondo being the adults in the room. The two have the latitude from Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to stop practice to get on guys, and they did so Tuesday.

“You just want to cut down all the chatter; it’s early,” Rondo said. “Only a couple of guys should be talking in practice. As far as disrupting when they do stop practice, coach has the voice then assistant coach has the voice and then the other players.”

It’s not a surprise given Hoiberg won’t be one change his ways overnight, and having a player-run team are often the most successful, assuming everyone is on the same page.

It sort of speaks to Bulls vice president John Paxson’s statement on media day about the Bulls’ rebuilding their culture from the ground level.

“You talk about last year, but at the same time, last year doesn't matter,” Wade said. “We have a different core, and I think our culture is fairly different. We have guys now, Rondo's won a championship, I've won championships, we demand respect on the court. But we've got a lot of young guys as well, so they'll listen.”

Wade and Rondo have both said the Bulls are Butler’s team, but it doesn’t mean they’ll be wallflowers if they see things they don’t like. Wade has been a vocal leader in some form for the last decade and Rondo has rarely, if ever, held his tongue.

Rondo, along with being a primary facilitator for Butler to make scoring easier, imparted some wisdom to help Butler in his ever-evolving role as a leader.

“Not doing it with my mouth but with my actions, being consistent; I told Jimmy a leader can’t pick and choose when he wants to lead,” Rondo said. “He has to come out every day, every practice; we’re having two a days. If you are down, need something to get your head right, you have to bring it every day, every day.”

Hoiberg said there has to be a mutual respect amongst the team, which can lead to chemistry and camaraderie.

“It takes a lot of those moments when we all make mistakes and the coach is on us, that's when we come together,” Wade said. “In the locker room, when we're in there talking about anything, talking about whatever. it takes a lot of being on the road, traveling together. You're on a road trip, you go out dinner together. It's going to take a lot of moments to get the chemistry that we need.”